Gone Astray

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Pet dogs abandoned after the Fukushima disaster continue to suffer from stress long after being separated from their owners, according to a study in Scientific Reports.

After Japan’s massive 2011 earthquake and nuclear plant crisis, many residents were forced to flee the area and leave pets behind. Dogs had to fend for themselves, and some were chained for a long time before being rescued. The roughly 340,000 human refugees from the disaster are at risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and researchers wondered if the lost pets were susceptible to psychological damage as well.

The team compared 17 dogs abandoned during the disaster with 8 dogs from Kanagawa that had been abandoned for other reasons. The Fukushima dogs were less aggressive to strangers, harder to train, and more aloof to the people caring for them. They also had five to ten times more cortisol in their urine, suggesting “extreme stress” that “persisted even after 10 weeks of adequate care,” the authors write.

Since the researchers tested only a small number of dogs, they couldn’t definitively rule out other possible causes for the higher stress. But some of the dogs’ symptoms match those of humans with PTSD, who tend to have problems with learning and bonding. Roberta Kwok | 11 October 2012

Source: Nagasawa, M. et al. 2012. Continued distress among abandoned dogs in Fukushima. Scientific Reports doi: 10.1038/srep00724.

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